No one believed him; and in the end, he didn’t believe himself either. Amir Khan swore he would produce the first blemish on Terence Crawford’s career when the two met at Madison Square Garden. Fighters make these perfunctory proclamations because such talk is expected of them, because stupid questions deserve no better, but also because the fighters believe them. And while Khan had proved lacking in a few areas over his career, his self-belief stood firm regardless of how frequently, how predictably, the rest of him was knocked kicking. But even fighters, supremely confident as they are, have their limits.
Khan met his somewhere before the end of the sixth round on Saturday night, before Crawford’s left hook found hip instead of liver, and offered Khan an irresistible opportunity: at best a disqualification win over the finest opponent of his career; at worst, a short night he’d remember in full. He got the latter in a fight most would just as soon forget. Crawford TKO6 Khan was an outcome expected to come with a gasp—instead, there were groans.
If Khan didn’t ask openly to be praised for his previous acceptance of a gladiatorial end, he seemed nevertheless to expect it. Perhaps because there is something of a decision in such a fate, a last act of will when all other choices are denied you? It’s easy to see how this rationale would appeal to a fighter who believes bravado is the best explanation for his shortcomings. Wouldn’t believing that he tempts his own destruction ennoble those trips to unconsciousness he isn’t good enough to elude? But how then to explain Saturday, and that uncharacteristically rational decision to quit?
For all the efforts to understand his psyche, the answer isn’t to be found in Khan. Nor in trainer Virgil Hunter, in his professed familiarity with the science of low blows, or his disclosure that Khan had suffered an injury sometime before the fight. No, Crawford is the answer. He handled Khan with ease. And let’s not overlook that ease. Because however many times he’s been plunked by lesser fighters, however many laughs his penchant for sudden elasticity has produced, outside of Breidis Prescott catching him cold, and Saul Alvarez outweighing him by two divisions, Khan, 33-5 (20), posed problems for everyone he has faced—everyone except Crawford.
There is a piece of pedagogical wisdom that says you should always try your best for the simple reason that your best is what everyone expects of you. That lesson translates to the ring, where even deception, if it is to be done effectively, must be done in earnest. That lesson takes on a disheartening quality with Terence Crawford. Because Crawford is truly a world-class fighter, his opponent’s very best is required to have even the slimmest chance of beating him. The problem is that while you offer Crawford your best he is determining why it is insufficient, and you recognize this calculation as it is happening. (In his role as commentator, Tim Bradley spoke enthusiastically about Crawford’s ability to “download” an opponent’s style, and one wonders if his zest here isn’t the result of his being downloaded by Crawford in sparring). What you don’t know is when Crawford will use your flawed, insufficient, inferior, best against you.
Crawford didn’t waste a round against Khan, using a counter right hook to collapse the British fighter like a jack-in-the-box in retreat. Scrambling upright, Khan survived the round; whereafter Crawford abused him for a further five, turning Khan first into a thinking fighter and then into a reasonable one.
The stoppage was better suited for the week prior: of Top Rank’s two prizefighters it’s Vasiliy Lomachenko, not Crawford, who’s known for coercing capitulation; Lomachenko who finds satisfaction in humiliating his opponents, taxing their will, forcing them to embrace taboo. He might have enjoyed the improv routine that unfolded to end the fight Saturday. Crawford, however, seemed less enthused. There is little need to take a man’s will when his body can no longer respond to it, and it is denying his opponents a choice, not forcing one on them, that for Crawford marks a job well done. Crawford pressed Khan to admit he quit during the post-fight press conference, a move reflecting his discontent with the result and Khan’s bumbling efforts to spit shine it. One imagines that Crawford demanded Khan admit he quit not to glorify Crawford but so that Khan might suffer some penalty for evading a beating.
If Crawford, 35-0 (26), is dissatisfied, he should be. His ring IQ, his charming cruelty, his dominance—he’s proven all time and again, but against whom? It is telling that so much of the coverage of Crawford is biographical, reflecting the content culled from one-sided fights. Listening to the ESPN broadcast, you’d think Crawford’s real nemesis was Lomachenko; as if winning their theoretical fight for a fictional title could satisfy either man.
Already thirty-one, Crawford, if not in his prime, may be closer to its end than its beginning. He is so good we may have no idea either way for years. But Crawford is a predator; he needs a challenge. And not only for himself. Even a once wide-eyed crowd will turn its back on the paltry spectacle of scheduled feedings, all those poor goats intend to coax the panther to action.